I actually rather like in general, as John referred to it, "Paul's fucking granny shit". The fact that Paul's tastes were really grounded in the pre-rock era gave him a bad reputation as a square around the time, but the slightly out-of-whack retro atmosphere does work for me. (I'm going to be the "Ob-La-Di" defender, aren't I? Eh, I'm OK with that.) You wouldn't be alone, because on some days I'd pick the White Album as my personal favourite. That said, side four is pretty tough going modulo "Cry Baby Cry". (Why not the original version of "Revolution", for goodness' sake?) Anyway, it is time to commence. *** THE TWENTY BEST BEATLES SONGS (THAT AREN'T IN THE RATE (AS SELECTED BY ME)) Part One What I hope to do, with this series, is to show some love to the songs that aren't here, whether they be forgotten gems or lesser-known fan favourites. It's hard to remember, sometimes, that classic rock bands are more than just the overplayed radio singles, and that's a perception I always want to dispel. This, perhaps, will also introduce some themes I intend to revisit in the reveal posts themselves, as a sort of preamble. (Though I do always feel I have written better about music than I do about lyrics or my own personal connections to the music, so perhaps my thoughts there could do with some refinement and further discussion.) Four in a post, at whatever intervals I can. Please enjyo! At number twenty... YOU CAN'T DO THAT From A Hard Day's Night It's often forgotten when listening to the Beatles with today's Loudness War numbed ears, but the fact is this: by the standards of 1964, they could rock pretty damn hard. For a few years prior to their arrival, American rock and roll and its stars had largely been moribund, and while British rock already had a handful of classics of its own (I'm thinking here of “Apache” and “Shakin' All Over”), the majority of it was either pallid imitations of the Yanks or had too much of the cabaret about it. So with their unadorned instrumental setup and ruthlessly compact songwriting, the Beatles first came on the scene as a breath of fresh air, and I think there's few better examples of their earlier, grittier rock songwriting than this one. Sure, “You Can't Do That” is easy to appreciate on its own terms, as a great bit of tough garage rock: a hard-driving cowbell-bolstered backbeat that's hard not to heatedly boogie to, ragged shout-along backing vocals, a call-and-response vocal pattern that betrays the Beatles' love and appreciation of American soul music (John recalled it being inspired by Wilson Pickett specifically). Dig a little deeper, however, and one finds an interesting little beast of a song. For you see, “You Can't Do That” is quite clearly the product of a songwriter who is straining at his bonds and hungry to make more ambitious music rather quickly, but has not quite learned, as Lennon and McCartney would later, how to incorporate that ambition and complexity subtly. Even if you don't know music theory, it's easy to tell that there are some “weird” chords going on – specifically, the rarely seen and majestic D7#9 chord on “I told you before”, and all the G chords in the verses being played as G7s, which are normally transitory chords, but here don't resolve for four entire bars. Hell, the arpeggiated opening riff approaches outright dissonance, and the guitar solo (John's work rather than George's) is a terse series of angry slashes, like someone taking a knife to the tape. It all makes for a fun, refreshingly dirty listen, unique amidst early songwriting just learning to break out of the formulas. Admittedly, from a feminist perspective the lyrics aren't terribly easy to defend, John seething with jealousy over catching his girl talking to another man and threatening to leave her over it. I don't quite know what to make of this: it's always seemed to me that he seems more upset over other people thinking he's being cucked, rather than the prospect of actually being so. (A very Lennonish way of thinking, there.) But you know what? Thanks to another bravura soul'n'blues shouter performance from him, growling through the bridges and snarling “I TOLD YOU BEFORE... ohhhh, you can't do that!”, I think it's forgivable, capturing grit and menace as well as the best of the Stones. And hey, at least it's not “Run for Your Life”... At number nineteen... THINK FOR YOURSELF From Rubber Soul It's one of the great narrative arcs of the Beatles' career: George's humble origins as the soft-spoken baby of the group, elbowed out of the spotlight by its two more bullish songwriting leads, making his first tentative and forgettable steps as a composer (at first just to see, with “Don't Bother Me”, if he could write a song) until, on Rubber Soul, he finally emerges from the chrysalis with both “If I Needed Someone” and this. More on that later, but suffice to say, it was a joy to watch, and when it results in album highlights like "Think for Yourself", the fact that George was so often treated as the junior partner of the group becomes downright infuriating. There's small innovations all over the place in the Beatles catalogue, if you care to look, and here's one on “Think for Yourself”, in which Paul McCartney becomes the first person to record his bass guitar through a fuzzbox, and plays it like a lead guitar throughout (George credits Phil Spector's production of “Zip-a-De-Doo-Dah” by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the distorted lead guitar of which inspired Gibson to invent the fuzzbox, as the inspiration). Alongside an ordinary bass guitar part, Paul achieving a heavier and pluckier tone with his Rickenbacker 4001S than he had with his iconic Hofner violin bass, and a low-toned pulse of organ, “Think for Yourself” has a low-end weightiness distinctly uncommon with the era's recording standards, murky and dour in ironic contrast to the protagonist's unfettered free-thinking spirit. Musicologists have also identified the key as constantly shifting and ambiguous, not seemingly sitting comfortably in either G major or G minor, while the bounce between a tensely downbeat verse soaked in folk-inflected three-part harmony, to a more upbeat chorus given additional lift by Ringo's hand percussion, is more cleverly and cleanly executed than such a thing ever had been in the Beatles' prior music. The lyrics, too, betray the Beatles' turn towards more ambitious songwriting: while the songs that aren't the big hits from the pre-Rubber Soul era are often dismissed as fluff by more casual listeners, not always fairly, it's true that the lyrics weren't up to much for a while. (John, speaking about "In My Life": "Before, we were just writing songs a la Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly — pop songs with no more thought to them than that. The words were almost irrelevant.") "Think for Yourself", on the other hand, betrays an intriguing ambiguity. In his autobiography I Me Mine, George writes that it "must be about "somebody" from the sound of it – but all this time later, I don't quite recall who … Probably the Government". It fits well enough, as a decrying of false promises of future prosperity, it could work equally well when read as describing a relationship, broken down by the stifling conventionality of the partner and their empty life choices. Here, we see the first seeds of one of George's most recurring themes, the insensate and mind-numbing routines of modern life and the possibility of breaking out from it with free thinking and spiritual enlightenment. While this could sometimes result in a bit of uncomely sneering at the "unenlightened" (as most uncomfortably realised in the risible "Piggies"), not so here: there is still an optimism that the target could change their ways and come to the side of the angels, a surprising amount of depth packed into simple phrasings in the best Beatles fashion. Forget any narrative of Revolver as a sudden turn to the complex and even literary: the seeds for it might have been in the soil a few years, but they were there from the start, just waiting for their moment. At number eighteen... YER BLUES From The Beatles The White Album is much misunderstood. To attack it for its lack of cohesiveness, the Lennon-McCartney credit once and for all becoming an anachronism and the record disintegrating into a heavy, random sprawl, is to miss the point entirely. Never once do I feel that these innumberable styles clash with one another, the almost fragment-like numbers in between more substantial works provide fascinating glimpses into the composers' mindsets, and the sequencing is beautifully done to keep the sense of a true genre odyssey. Sure, I wouldn't weep if I never heard "Savoy Truffle" or "Rocky Raccoon" again, but there's less filler, I submit, than there is popularly believed to be. I'd miss those lovely little pastiche numbers as well, most of them beautifully balanced between parody and earnestness - but none tread that line with more success than "Yer Blues". With the contemporaneous boom in heavy electric blues, Cream and Fleetwood Mac leading the charge for Britain, a debate was being aired in the press: can white men really play the blues, with true understanding of what it meant? Well, on this evidence, they can certainly make a creditable stab at it. According to John, sentiments like "feel so lonely, wanna die" were genuine to how he felt at the time, but he hid them within this intentionally over-the-top song so that he could pass them off as parody if anyone asked; the idea of parodying the British blues scene had come from a sincere desire to write a blues song, but being unsure if he could convincingly imitate the bluesmen he had listened to at school. I'd say, given his barnstorming lead vocal here, he had little to worry about on that front. Even if the lyrics amount to a farrago of overly-literal blues cliches that mean little when all put together (plus a probably-intentionally mangled Bob Dylan reference), John roars them out with such conviction, with the requisite gruff moans and howled ad-libs in an uncontrolled falsetto, that it makes no matter. At his peak, he was unmatched (except perhaps by Paul!) as a rasping rock singer, and he gets his teeth into the role of a blues shouter with barely disguised glee. The lyrics almost remind me of David Bowie's famous Burroughs-inspired "cut-up" technique: sure, it is nonsense, lines like "my father was of the sky and my mother was of the earth" are meaningless, but when all put together it flows beautifully, and somehow, the true emotional core behind the song's bluff wall of parody shines through. And the production on this is just immaculate. The White Album was one of the first to really be able to take advantage of the new eight-track tape machines, inaugurating the more modern era of stereo recording where they were able to record each instrument on one track, and the whole thing has a crisp, live-in-the-studio sound that is perfect for both the more delicate numbers and the rougher hard rockers like "Yer Blues". Ringo's drums thunder away under a wash of sizzling cymbals during the 6/8 verses before cutting loose in the Yardbirds-like "rave-up", and Paul's bass tone is so delectably thick and crunchy you could spread it on toast. And with all the advancement in recording technology, it's difficult to get guitars to sound that good, the tubey hollow distortion searing through the mix while the low-tond slide stings like a hornet. They even manage to make John and George playing completely different guitar solos at once sound great, the two interwoven closely enough that the two men seem synced to the same cosmic clock, George's mixed much lower so that only the most important notes peep out of the mix to compliment John's. Both a sparkling, musically witty parody of a genre and a sterling example of that genre in itself, "Yer Blues" is the kind of thing that truly makes the White Album what it is - and god bless 'em for it. At number seventeen... TWO OF US From Let It Be Ah, the ever controversial Let It Be, the warts-and-all, stripped-down rock record that never was. Debate over it in Beatles fandom continues to this day: whether Phil Spector's remixing and production is a sugary bastardisation, whether it's good in its own right, or whether the album was doomed from the get-go. And it's a conversation I have somewhat invited, even welcomed, with my provision of both versions of its songs for rating. Even as individual tracks, these songs strike a discord with each other, some seemingly grotesquely ill-suited to the live-in-the-studio Get Back treatment, others seeming as if that approach would have only left them looking malformed and half-finished. As much as I like many of the individual songs on it, whether Spectorised or Naked, I am reluctantly forced to conclude this: the possibility of it ever being a cohesive album died at its birth. But that said... what about one of those individual songs? I will admit that my opinion on “Two of Us” had long been unfairly soured by one thing: it's not much of an opener, too intimate and small to really immerse one in Let It Be from the start, and I really don't know why it was placed at the beginning of the record. Put that aside, however, and we find one of the Beatles' most modest and charming efforts in the country-folk idiom, and a tune that truly captures the throwback essence of the ill-fated Get Back project as it was meant to be captured. The arrangement – closely interwoven acoustic guitars over a trotting drumbeat, George's low-register Telecaster slides taking the place of a bassline – has a warmth not characteristic of Spector's typically fussy mix, where it is easy to picture all of them picking and grinning together in the studio. The close harmonies between John and Paul (they shared one microphone, and you can tell) dig their teenage infatuation with the Everly Brothers out of mothballs, proof positive that they never truly lost sight of where they began, as teenagers worshipping their idols the way their very own fans had come to do with them. Their vocals might be more rough and reflective than they were, but with a new instinctive understanding and strength between them as they tread in a more similar register, the strength of their psychic bond burnished by years to drive the song's insinuating melody home: one that is placid and contented, in the best possible senses of those words. And how appropriate is it, by the way, that this song should be so dominated by close harmony? Well, Paul allegedly wrote it about the times in which he and Linda (to whom he had recently married) would drive out into the country for the purpose of “getting lost”, so as to enjoy uncomplicated moments out of the spotlight's glare - but others, Ian MacDonald most notably, have interpreted it to be about Paul and John. I can believe it, personally, and evidence can be found: the nod to contemporaneous lawsuits where the two of them were both “chasing paper, getting nowhere”; the brief nods to Help! and “Day Tripper”; the fantastic line making reference to “memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead” (perhaps odd in the Linda context considering that Paul had only met her two years prior), a bittersweet reflection on what they once shared together but most likely no longer could. And is it not clever, in a way, that it could so easily be either? “The Long and Winding Road” is an appropriate closer, certainly, but I think “Two of Us” could also have served that purpose well – a superb summation of Pauls future and past, for better and for worse.